JP Morgan: through thick and thin

What do you call 12 bankers at the bottom of the sea? A good start goes the popular but damning punchline. To be fair, bankers have never been overly popular and their reputation has probably hit an all-time low since the global financial crisis took hold in 2008.

In fact, it appears that business graduates are becoming more reluctant to join the profession, with a survey last year of almost 108,000 business students from 1,350 universities in Asia, the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Africa reporting a slump in the number signing up to be the next Gordon Gekko - or Nick Leeson, if things go badly.

All of this appears to be news to Jonathan Conner, a banker for 14 years and the Middle East head of the private banking division of JP Morgan, the biggest bank in the US and one of the largest banking institutions in the world.

“I don’t know if we have a reputational problem now,” he says without a hint of hesitation, adding that he believes the strength of his bank’s relationships with merchant families in the region has meant it has remained a popular and trusted advisor since it set up in Riyadh 80 years ago.

“One of the hallmarks of the Middle East is the close personal relationships you build and the trust that evolves by being there through thick and thin. If we look back to some of the headlines JP Morgan had last year and the year before clients know this was a bump in the road, they have had a long-term relationship with JP Morgan and we would weather this and the relationship will weather this. I haven’t had any clients be overly concerned about the headlines in the papers.”

To call JP Morgan’s recent headlines ‘bumps’ is something of an understatement when you look at its recent record. The bank last year agreed to a $13bn settlement over mortgage-backed securities sold ahead of the financial crisis, in what the US Justice Department called “the largest settlement with a single entity in American history.”

Reuters claimed last year the bank had agreed to about $20bn in settlements in its drive to clear up legal claims, including everything from mortgage-related issues to derivatives and power trading.

Only days ago a US district judge said the bank’s shareholders could pursue claims that its senior officers knowingly hid the increased risks that the bank had been taking in early 2012. These were specifically related to the infamous ‘London Whale’ case which saw the bank try to cover losses of around $6.2bn in derivatives trades.

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